Asia-Pacific, Development & Aid, Headlines, Human Rights, Population

RIGHTS-EAST ASIA: Compensated Dating Picks up among Youngsters

Marwaan Macan-Markar

BANGKOK, Apr 26 2004 (IPS) - Children from financially secure homes across East Asia are being lured into the sex trade through a practice euphemistically known as ‘compensated dating’, child rights activists warned here Monday.

Already, a leading international child rights organisation has detected the trend among children with middle and upper-middle class backgrounds in China, South Korea, Singapore, Philippines and Thailand who are being trapped into this form of sex abuse..

‘’The girls and boys often meet the sex exploiters through the Internet,” said Amalee McCoy, Asia-Pacific regional officer for End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking of Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT).

‘’Typically, these children don’t have a dire need for financial support,” added McCoy, but ‘’they have a desire to purchase consumer goods”.

This pattern of sexual exploitation, which had its origins in Japan, was a main theme in an annual report on child sex abuse launched here by ECPAT, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) that has been working since 1987 to protect children from adult predators.

The majority of the adult exploiters are ‘’men, married and single, paedophiles and those who are sexually indiscriminate and from a variety of respectable professions,” the 152-page report revealed. ‘’In Japan at least, high-profile cases have exposed teachers, police officers and judges as ‘enjo kosai’ partakers”.

‘Enjo kosai’ is the word that emerged in Japan over a decade ago to describe cases of adult males seeking school girls for ‘dates’ that often resulted in sex.

But ECPAT argues that such a description is ‘’a misnomer, implying a mutually beneficial relationship between consenting persons and overlooking the predatory nature behind it”.

As McCoy told the press during the launch of the report, children lured into this form of abuse have been raped, murdered, blackmailed and threatened.

There is little dispute, though, about the common profile of the victims.. ‘’Most are ‘typical’ teenage students, usually girls, from middle-class families and with few outwardly perceivable social or financial problems,” the ECPAT report notes.

A 16-year-old Thai girl identified as ‘May’ is a case in point, it adds. Before being caught in a ‘’lucrative escort business”, she had been selected to ‘’lead an anti-drug advertising campaign and was a well-known student at a leading educational institution”.

She mirrors what child rights activists had learnt about Japan, where the girls come from ‘decent’ families and are ‘’not particularly rebellious nor trouble makers”. According to ECPAT, the attraction to this form of ‘dating’ with adult men who are strangers is a way of ‘’earning gifts and extra spending money to supplement living expenses, buy consumer goods, cover nights out with friends or pay for hobbies and trips”.

The age of children trapped in this net of abuse varies. In Japan, ‘enjo kosai’ is so common a phenomenon that ‘’13 percent of respondents in a recent survey of junior high school students in their final year admitted to practising it”, the report reveals.

The common age of junior high school students is between 13 to 15 years.

In South Korea, a police study cited by the report highlights ‘’two to three students in every middle and high school class” believed to be involved in prostitution. ‘’Statistics for 2000 show 222 girls aged 18 or younger were caught by police engaging in ‘wonjo kyojae’, with girls aged under 16 accounting for 62.6 percent of cases.”

‘Wonjo kyojae’ is the Korean word for ‘compensated dating’, which is often made through on-line chats on the Internet.

The case of a 16-year-old Thai schoolboy involved in such activity also illustrates the money to be made.

Through his involvement in prostitution via the Internet, ‘’he had earned more than 200,000 baht (5,000 U.S. dollars) over two year,” the report states.

In another case, a 16-year-old Thai girl had earned up to 100,000 baht (2,630 U.S. dollars) a month by serving adult males through an escort service.

For child rights activists, this disturbing trend adds to an already long list of abuse arising from children being forced into the sex trade across Asia and elsewhere. ‘’Many children are being forced into prostitution by persons familiar to them,” Anil Raghuvanshi, deputy director of ECPAT International, said in introducing the report.

Children, along with women, also continue to be trafficked in large numbers in South-east Asia, largely from Burma, China’s Yunnan province and Laos.

According to the International Labour Organisation, an estimated 200,000 to 250,000 women and children ‘’are trafficked for all purposes in and through the region annually”, the report states.

But countering the new trend will not easy, the report concedes, since the public perception – fed by media reports – is not one sympathetic to the child victims. Across this region, children are either portrayed as having ‘’loose morals” or being ‘’spoiled, greedy and motivated by a desire for the latest mobile phones”.

‘’Such reports rarely shed light on the perpetrators, the likely psychological damage to the child, the vulnerability to sexually transmitted infections, or the grave and sometimes fatal physical danger that accompanies liaisons with strangers,” the report notes.

Compounding that problem are the new advances in mobile phone technology, particularly the 3G network, which enables the user to access Internet, send and receive text and multimedia messages at high speed, take photographs and, of course, converse with another caller.

‘’These mobile phones will make it easier for the links to be established with children,” Stuart Hyde, assistant chief constable for crime at Britain’s West Midlands police headquarters, told IPS. ‘’Monitoring mobile phone usage is difficult, unlike a personal computer.”

He warned about the likely explosion of child pornography, too, given the increasingly common camera feature built into today’s mobile phones. ‘’Once those pictures are on the web, they are there for life,” he said during the report’s launch. ‘’The children will have no control of the pictures.”

The only remedy, he urged, was a combined effort involving the mobile phone industry. ‘’Government, the industry and NGOs have to work together to eradicate this issue.”

For McCoy, change will also need a shift in thinking. ‘’Children do not have the skills to balance out the psychological and physical repercussion of commercial sex abuse,” she said. ‘’Children would not volunteer towards their own exploitation.”

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  • Ashika Malik

    Thanks for sharing your great comment on youngsters on dating.

  • Alex ferdman

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